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Possible push for changes in EU biofuel targets

LONDON (Reuters) - The government will push for changes in European Union biofuels targets if a review of policy shows rising production drives up food prices and harms the environment, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Tuesday.

An ethanol plant with its giant corn silos is seen next to a cornfield in Colorado, July 7, 2006. Britain will push for changes in European Union biofuels targets if a review of British policy shows rising biofuels production drives up food prices and harms the environment, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Brown is due to meet development experts and shop and farmers’ representatives on Tuesday to work on a plan to tackle rising food prices.

His government ordered a review of the environmental and economic effects of biofuels production in February.

“We need to look closely at the impact on food prices and the environment of different production methods and to ensure we are more selective in our support (for biofuels),” Brown said in a statement.

“If our UK review shows that we need to change our approach, we will also push for change in EU biofuels targets.”

As part of plans to tackle the food crisis that the World Food Programme described as a “silent tsunami” threatening 100 million people worldwide, the government on Tuesday announced a 455 million pounds aid package.

“The UK aid package announced today will help support the essential work of the World Food Programme to alleviate the immediate problems, but also address longer-term solutions,” said International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander.

“We will work with key international institutions, such as the World Bank, IMF and United Nations, to develop a comprehensive approach that will help put food on the table for nearly a billion people going hungry across the world.”

The EU’s executive Commission said on Monday it stood by its target of getting 10 percent of road transport fuel from crops and agricultural waste by 2020, despite criticism it could contribute to food shortages.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday higher food prices risked wiping out progress towards reducing poverty and could hurt global growth and security.

Price rises have led to riots in Asia and Africa. In rich countries like Britain, fears that rising food costs are straining family budgets has made it a political issue for Brown whose popularity has slumped.

He has convened a meeting of experts, including World Food Programme head Josette Sheeran, on Tuesday to develop proposals that he plans to present to the European Union, the Group of Eight leading industrialised countries and the United Nations.

“This is the new face of hunger -- the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” Sheeran said ahead of the meeting.

“The response calls for large-scale, high-level action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions.”

Also attending the meeting will be Donald Kaberuka, head of the African Development Bank, Justin King, chief executive of retailer J. Sainsbury and representatives of Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta, Cargill Grain Traders, charity Oxfam and the National Farmers’ Union.

Brown called for more research into higher-yielding crop varieties that can withstand harsh climates and for an agricultural revolution in developing countries.

A global trade agreement that opened up markets in rich countries and cut farm subsidies was also needed, he said.

He said the world was now “inches from” a deal in long-running trade talks, saying this could spur food production in poor countries.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell, editing by Richard Meares